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Detention of children

Detention of children

The routine detention of immigrant children by the last Government was a disgrace. Claimed changes to detention policy by the current incumbents and the recent case of R (on the application of Suppiah) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2011] EWHC 2 (Admin) (11 January 2011) reveal just how disgraceful practice used to be. This also turns out to be something for which officials as much as politicians are responsible.

Since the election, UKBA has been trialling ways of persuading families to leave the UK without being detained first. It turns out that if officials actually meet with a family to discuss their situation and the inevitability of their being removed, they will go ‘voluntarily’, in the sense of there not being any use of physical force. Detention is the use of physical force, when it comes down to it.

Equipped with this revelation, Clegg recently announced a virtual end to child detention. It should be noted that many believe Damian Green, the Tory Immigration Minister, has been instrumental in securing this ‘victory’ for the Lib Dems.

The events in Suppiah pre-date the election, having occurred in February 2010. It is an example of the old ways of doing things:

There is nothing unusual about these cases. They reflect normal practice by UKBA.

Policy is the unequivocal responsibility of the politicians. The judge concludes there was nothing inherently wrong with or unlawful about the policy itself, which was for minimum possible detention only exceptionally when all other alternatives had been explored. That is basically the same as the ‘new’ policy announced by Clegg. The problem lay with the way that officials ignored that policy and harmed these families as a result. As managers of their departments, Ministers no doubt have a constitutional responsibility for practice on the ground. Realistically, there is little they can do about rogue employees who do not do as they are told.

Sadly, there is no way to hold those officials to account for the harm they have done. The politicians can be removed through an election, and have been, but the officials remain the same. Will they undermine the new Government’s policy in the same way as they did the last?

Free Movement
The Free Movement blog was founded in 2007 by Colin Yeo, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers specialising in immigration law. The blog provides updates and commentary on immigration and asylum law by a variety of authors.

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